Zoom Together: How Silicon Valley is Spending Thanksgiving

Michael Norris can’t be with his family on the East Coast this holiday season, but he’s not going to let that stop him from making his grandmother's coffee cake with his sister—even if they have to joke and bicker about the recipe via Zoom from opposite ends of the country.

“We never really get it right when we make it together, and part of it is that my grandma never wrote down the recipe,” Norris, a South Bay resident, says with a laugh. “My sister had to just reverse-engineer it by watching her in the kitchen one day.”

The recipe, as told to the family by his grandmother who died in 2016, includes measurements in increments of “by gosh” or “by golly.” The coffee cake generally ends up more like a cinnamon roll, and is a little different every year. This time, the siblings won’t get to judge for themselves who’s turned out better.

But such is the story of the holidays in 2020 as the country goes even deeper into a lockdown to slow the fast-spreading coronavirus that is most lethal for older people and those with pre-existing health conditions.

Recommendations from Santa Clara County, the state of California and the Centers for Disease Control advise people to nix in-person gatherings with people not already living in the same home. But if guests do come over, the agencies say people should keep the gathering small—within three households at most—as well as stay outside, limit the celebration to a couple of hours and they note that everyone would be well-advised to forego errands that could put them at risk of catching the virus beforehand, like dining indoors or getting a haircut.

“I cannot emphasize enough that gathering with friends and family that do not live in your household is not safe,” Dr. Sara Cody, Santa Clara County’s top health official said during a media appearance last week, urging residents not to travel and adding that if people “must” have guests over to keep the celebration outdoors.

“Wrap people in blankets, use heaters, do whatever you can, pretend you are from Scandinavia, but take it outside—it’s so much safer,” she said. “If you can’t take it outside, then immediate household members only. We are very worried about our hospitals getting overwhelmed, we don’t want to let that happen.”

Cody told the Mercury News earlier this month that she’d be sitting outdoors, 10 feet away from her 80-year-old mother to celebrate the holiday.

Likewise, many people, hoping to keep parents and grandparents healthy through the pandemic, are turning to outdoor get-togethers, which has created a run on heat lamps in Silicon Valley and across the country in the past month. Others are tuning into video chats to be together while apart, including some elected officials trying to lead by example.

Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese, who recently won his election bid for California’s Senate District 15 seat, along with his wife, Pattie, will see both sides of their family on Zoom. That includes their parents, kids and “any other extended family members who show up on Zoom,” Cortese said in a statement.

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said this week his Thanksgiving dinner would be a quiet one with his family “adhering to proper safety protocols.”

Meanwhile, this year marks the first time in eight years San Jose Councilman Raul Peralez and his family will stay home for Thanksgiving, he told San Jose Inside in a statement. "We are looking forward to our continued tradition of participating in the Turkey Trot in their virtual run this year," he said.

San Jose Councilwoman Pam Foley also said she’ll be logging onto the computer to see family from across the country, but will see her daughter in person. “Locally, we have plans for an outdoor, socially distanced meet-up with my daughter,” Foley said. “She is not in our pod, so sadly hugging isn't allowed.”

Janice Bitters is managing editor for Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @janicebitters.

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